Dr. Henry M. Seidel

Baltimore Sun

Henry M. Seidel, who successfully combined the role of pediatrician, educator and medical school dean and in doing so became a figure beloved and revered by generations of students at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, died Wednesday of lymphoma at his Columbia home, where he had lived for 40 years.

He was 87.

During his nearly seven decades at Hopkins, Dr. Seidel became an indispensable presence at the institution. He had a lasting influence that was felt by his fellow pediatricians and former medical students who sought his wisdom long after they had left East Baltimore and established their own careers.

"I wanted to be sure you know how much you have meant to me - both personally and professionally," Dr. John M. Freeman, professor emeritus and retired chief of pediatric neurology at Hopkins, wrote in a letter to Dr. Seidel last fall.

"From my time in medical school and through my pediatric residency, you have been the example of the type of physician I have tried to become. The caring, thoughtful fashion with which you listen to patients, and to children, set an example that I have tried to emulate," wrote Dr. Freeman.

"I have just finished a first draft of a book - 'The Compassionate Physician' - which I hope captures some of what you have taught and which I aim toward medical students and interns," he wrote. "It will be dedicated to you."

Born and raised in Passaic, N.J., Dr. Seidel was the son of immigrants. In 2005, Dr. Seidel recalled in a Baltimore Sun article the terror from polio that was omnipresent in the nation during his youth in the 1930s.

"I can remember standing on the running board of my father's car, begging him to let me go to the movies. He wouldn't let me because of the risk of getting polio," he said.

His interest in pursuing a medical career was influenced by his family physician.

"After poking me a bit and looking in my ears and throat, he would pull a leather case from his bag," Dr. Seidel wrote in a 2002 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"It was in my child's mind's eye huge. When opened, it presented a double row of small bottles filled with variegated pills," he wrote.

It was only years later that Dr. Seidel realized that the family physician was Dr. William Carlos Williams, the renowned American poet, and that he had been dispensing sugar pills to his young patients. When Dr. Seidel needed a letter of recommendation, he turned to the physician-poet, who described him as "a boy of intelligence, industry and excellent character."

Dr. Seidel enrolled at the Johns Hopkins University, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1943 and his medical degree three years later.

Dr. Seidel completed postdoctoral training at what was then called the Harriet Lane Home for Invalid Children, which is today's Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

He was one of the founding editors of the "Harriet Lane Handbook," the venerable pediatrician's reference book that is still widely used today, and co-author of "The Harriet Lane Home: A Model and a Gem."

After completing his residency, Dr. Seidel spent the next 15 years maintaining a pediatric practice in the 1400 block of Eutaw St. and later in Pikesville, and teaching at Hopkins. He expanded his role in 1969, when he joined the faculty of what is now Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

In 1977, Dr. Seidel was named dean of student affairs at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where he was responsible for advising and counseling the 500 medical students about curriculum, internships and personal matters.

He also was a tireless advocate for a diverse student body and encouraged careful allocation of scholarship funds.

Former students recalled his open-door policy and willingness to help, even resorting at times to techniques he normally reserved for treating his pediatric patients.

"It worked, but I was chuckling inside that this technique he perfected for children worked just as well on a medical student who thought he was grown up," said Dr. Edward "Ted" Trimble in a 2008 article published in the Hopkins Medicine magazine.

Whether he was dealing with a patient or counseling an anxious medical student, Dr. Seidel valued the individual's personal history.

"Tell me about you," he would ask.

Dr. Seidel also endeared himself to generations of medical students when he altered the process in which they learned where they would be receiving their residency training on what is called "Match Day."

Formerly, names were posted for all to see, leaving a few at risk of being embarrassed at not finding a match. In creating an atmosphere of privacy, Dr. Seidel ordered that all students would receive an envelope informing them of their match, thus removing the possible sting of public humiliation.

Leading up to Match Day, Dr. Seidel worked feverishly to find places for those who did not receive a match.

Dr. Robert Chessin, a Fairfield, Conn., pediatrician, recalled that Dr. Seidel was "one of the most important influences on me in medical school."

"He was truly the pediatrician for all of us medical students. He cared for all of us and cared about all of us," said Dr. Chessin, who graduated from Hopkins in 1973. "I always hoped I could live up to the type of physician and human being he was."

Dr. David Nichols is vice dean for education at Johns Hopkins, where he is also professor of anesthesiology and critical care and pediatrics.

"As if it were no more complicated than breathing, Henry Seidel allowed everyone he came in contact with to feel that he cared for them as an individual," he said. "It is for that reason that generations of pediatricians and students learned the ideal embodiment of the physician, because they had seen it in Henry Seidel."

Dr. Seidel also inculcated in his students the notion that medicine is not an exact science and warned against being too mechanical in diagnoses and treatments.

He also believed it was all right to acknowledge uncertainty and share that with patients. It was important to enlist a patient as "an ally in the pursuit of solutions," he wrote in a 2007 essay for JAMA.

Dr. Seidel had been an attending physician at Sinai Hospital from 1953 to 1968, and was a part-time instructor in pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

He was a founder of Howard County General Hospital in Columbia and served on its board until his death. He also served on the board of Outer Cape Health Services on Cape Cod, Mass., where he maintained a second home in Wellfleet.

An expert on the special needs of adopted children and their parents, Dr. Seidel was a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics task force that looked into the care and evaluation of thousands of Vietnamese orphans during the 1970s.

Dr. Seidel wrote more than 70 articles and book chapters and was co-author of the classic textbook "Principles of Pediatrics: Health Care of the Young." He was also lead editor for two decades of "Mosby's Guide to Physical Examination."

Not looking forward to his 1990 retirement, Dr. Seidel approached the department of pediatrics at Hopkins and offered them a deal.

In exchange for office space, a parking spot, a part-time secretary and no salary, he continued to teach students, visited patients, attended lectures and sat in on case conferences for the next 17 years.

Dr. Seidel wrote to his younger colleagues, thanking them for the daily challenges they offered as "a delicious justification just for being in it with them."

A celebration of Dr. Seidel's life will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday at Vantage House, 5400 Vantage Point Road, Columbia.

Surviving are his wife of 65 years, the former May Ruth Needle; three sons, Robert A. Seidel of Baltimore, Stuart A. Seidel of Washington and Steven M. Seidel of Cambridge, Mass.; and two grandsons.

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